The Transit Strike in New York City

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Almost exactly
40 years ago, on New Year’s Day, 1966, the Transportation Worker’s
Union walked off the job and shut down New York City. These people
know how to use the holidays for their own ends.

The strike
was illegal under the state law, just as the present one is. Mike
Quill, the head of the union and one of its founders in 1934, was
ordered by the judge to return with his union to operate the transportation
system. Quill responded to the press: “The judge can drop dead in
his black robes. I don’t care if I rot in jail. I will not call
off the strike.”

He was immediately
arrested and sent to jail. In jail, he had a heart attack. The strike
was almost immediately settled. Three days after his victory over
the city, Quill died. This story appears on the web site of the

TWU EXPRESS reported that month: Mike Quill “did not hesitate or
equivocate. He died as he lived fighting the good fight for TWU
and its members.”

The union is
obviously proud of Quill’s defiance.

The city is
now going through another shutdown. The reason is the same: coercion.


The modern
trade union movement is the product of special legislation. Businesses
are compelled by law to honor unions that receive a majority vote
by employees. Employees are then able to gain above-market wages
because businesses are forbidden by law to make offers to potential
employees who would otherwise underbid the unionized workers. These
would-be employees are referred to by union members as “scabs.”
The idea of competitive, open-entry bidding is anathema to trade

The trade union
movement is not a pro-labor movement. It is an anti-labor movement.
It exists in order to benefit a minority of workers at the expense
of a majority of would-be workers who would be willing to work for
less, but who are prohibited by law from being allowed to.

It was in this
context that Mike Quill shut down the transportation system of New
York City. As the employer, and as a tax-funded, coercive entity,
its administrators did not want their monopoly over the city’s transportation
system visibly called into question by another coercive, state-created

resent any attempt by other monopolists to horn in on their market
share. Quill and the TWU were trying to extract a portion of the
city’s share of its monopoly returns. This was regarded by the city’s
administrators with the same enthusiasm that Bugs Moran regarded
Al Capone.

The judge called
for the enforcement of the contract: no walk-off strikes allowed.
Quill verbally put the judge in his place. The judge then put Quill
in his place: jail. The union within a week got what it wanted:
a raise.

But then, lo
and behold, it was not the judge who dropped dead in his black robes.
It was Mike Quill, without robes.


The economic
and judicial issues are the same today as they were in 1966. A coercive
agency, New York City, regulates cabs by restricting entry. It jointly
funds the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s deficit. The state of
New York funds the other half, since the MTA is legally a state

The city taxes
drivers who cross any of the city’s bridges to keep the transportation
system — including the subway system — going. Part of the tolls
from the bridges is used to subsidize the subway system,
allowing lower fares.

On the other
side of the bargaining table, a coercive agency, the Transport Workers
Union, demands higher wages for its members. It can do this because
the city is not allowed by Federal administrative law to hire non-union

The typical
union member’s wage, according to the World Socialist Web Site,
is $ 50,000 to $60,000
a year
. According to the Boston Globe, it is $47,000 to $55,000 a year.

What does a
New York City policeman get paid? To begin, $32,000 a year. This
rises to $60,000 after 5.5 years.
So, the police are paid comparably to bus drivers.

The WTU wants
a 9% raise each year for three years. The MTA is offering 3%. Given
price inflation and taxes, this is no raise at all.

The workers
get full retirement benefits at age 55. The MTA wants to raise this
to 62. No deal, says the union.

If the union
gets its demands, what will happen to the joint deficit of New York
City and the state of New York? Ralph Kramden put it best half a
century ago: “To the moon!”


Trade unionism
is dying in the United States. It has enrolled about 10% of the
work force, and almost all of this is in unions working in various
levels of civil government. Without the Wagner Act and the National
Labor Relations Board, there would be almost no trade unionism in
the United States.

New York City
is different. The union has New York City’s transportation system
by the neck. This is because the state of New York and New York
City jointly put the transportation system in this position. By
outlawing open-entry private competition for transportation in and
around Fun City, the civil authorities turned the streets of New
York, not to mention the tunnels, into a disaster zone.

Political coercion
breeds coercion in general. The people walking and bicycling to
work in New York City are the victims of a system that pits one
coercive branch of government against the other. When the elephants
fight, the ants get stomped on.

am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw in Dallas around 1980. Love
New York? Take Highway 30, East

When you get
there, put on your walking shoes.

22, 2005

North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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